More years ago than seems possible, I took my young cousin Kyle for West Virginia’s Spring Gobbler Youth Hunt. As we talked in the predawn darkness, I reminded him to stay very still, and make sure he positively identified a gobbler before shooting. I also told him to not shoot too far, as turkeys are very tough and we didn’t want to risk wounding one.
Kyle had hunted a lot with his Dad and was very safe using firearms, and was a good shot. He was using his little 870 Remington 20 gauge youth model for this hunt. He asked how close a turkey needed to be before he shot. This was before the days of all the high-tech turkey loads. I was thinking about 35 yards, but explained it to him in slightly different terms. I asked if he knew about how far he could cleanly take squirrels with this shotgun. He did. I told him he would be good on a turkey for about the same distance. I also told him to make sure he kept his head down on the stock and aim for where the feathers end, halfway up the turkey’s neck. That should center his pattern on the turkey’s head and neck.
As soon as we settled in shoulder to shoulder against a big oak tree, a gobbler started sounding off in a tree about 100 yards down the ridge from us, right in the direction Kyle was facing. I gave a short series of soft hen yelps, and the gobbler roared right back. We listened to him gobbling in the tree until it was full daylight. Then the sound changed. He was on the ground. I sent out a long series of hen yelps and he double gobbled right back. When I called again, he had cut the distance in half. Suddenly, we could see him. He stopped at about 50 yards, strutting and gobbling. I clucked and purred softly, and he roared back, his head changing colors as he strutted back and forth. This went on for some time. Finally, I turned away to the back side of our tree, cupped my hands around my mouth, and called very softly in the opposite direction, in an attempt to make him think the hen was leaving. It worked. While I was still turned away, the blast from Kyle’s shot gun startled me. I jumped up, expecting to grab a flopping turkey. I excitedly asked Kyle, “Where did he go?” Kyle calmly replied, “He’s laying right there.”
The big Tom had come in to about 30 yards, and Kyle made a clean shot on him. A strutting, gobbling turkey just out of range has made many a grown man panic and shoot too soon, but this kid got the job done.
A few years later, the last season that Kyle would be young enough to hunt youth day, we were after them again. This time, he was carrying my 870 Remington 12 gauge. This gun was especially set up as a turkey rig, and would increase the distance he could responsibly shoot significantly over the 20 gauge youth model. As it turned out, that would not be an issue.
It was well after daylight and a turkey had been gobbling a couple of hundred yards away on another ridge. It would answer my calls, but didn’t seem to be going anywhere. We decided to move over to the same ridge and above where he was sounding off.
As we were walking over, I noticed the fan of a strutting gobbler appear just over the ridge. I whispered, “Get down!” and Kyle and I both laid down right in the logging road. The turkey’s fan had crested the ridge when I saw it, but his head had not yet, so he did not see us. I gave a soft series of yelps and the big gobbler walked right out into the road in front of where we were laying. We were slightly hidden behind a small log laying across the road, which you can see in the photo. He was very close, but slightly over the crest from our position, and did not offer a shot. I called as softly as I could, and he stepped back out into the road, looking right down on us at about 12 yards! Once again, Kyle came through, making a clean shot in a situation that would rattle even an experienced hunter. In addition to being a huge gobbler with a long thick beard, that old bird was a true limb hanger, meaning you could hand him over a limb by his long spurs, making him a rare trophy to serious turkey hunters.
West Virginia Youth Spring Gobbler opens on April 15, with hunting on the 15th and 16th for hunters between the ages of 8 and 17. The regular season opens on Monday April 17 and runs through May 21. It’s a great time to be in the West Virginia woods. If you can take a kid hunting, it’s even better. Check the DNR regulations for applicable rules and laws. Think safety first. Get out there and enjoy our natural resources.
Wade Shambaugh has lived in Morgan County his whole life and is a lifelong outdoorsman.